by Matt Weiner
Life comes at you fast. Real fast, when it’s a hyper-intelligent Martian lifeform hell-bent on survival. In Life, a seemingly unstoppable alien terrorizes the isolated crew of a spaceship. Is the plot eerily familiar? You bet. Does the film do enough to merit its obvious Alien comparison? Surprisingly, yes.
Director Daniel Espinosa makes the most of the zero-gravity settings on the International Space Station—first with inspired long takes introducing the cramped passages, and later with the haunting, creative blood spurts that will soon saturate them.
Inhabiting the ISS is a multinational crew who has recovered alien life from Mars. All the diverse archetypes are on board, including a wisecracking specialist (Ryan Reynolds), a world-weary veteran (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a suspiciously reserved biologist (Miranda North). Plus a few more alien appetizers, but this paragraph is already more backstory than most of the crew members receive.
Excitement quickly turns to horror once scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) finds a way to bring the cell to life. The astronauts are no match for “Calvin,” as those blissfully ignorant down on Earth have christened the creature. The more astronauts Calvin feeds on, the bigger it gets until it balloons to a nightmarish love child between an octopus and the Xenomorph.
Life is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the team responsible for Zombieland and Deadpool. And the film allows a few—very few—quiet moments to shade in some character depth. But these quasi-philosophical pauses just get in the way of the movie’s strengths.
And the biggest strength Life has going for it is that the film is a whole lot of fun as a dumb thriller. Well, that and a way-too-qualified cast who can add some pathos to the almost methodically expectant death scenes. (Did I mention how nifty those blood spurts are?)
Much like the ISS crew, the film comes dangerously close to running out of gas by the end. The familiar setup wears itself thin, and Calvin has too much CGI aloofness to win our affection like the Alien did.
Overall though, Espinosa mostly succeeds at keeping the action moving. Life trades in the languid dread of its forebear for a breakneck (among other appendages) pace that requires little thought and demands no frame-by-frame viewings. But while this monster might be a bit immature, it packs a vicious punch.